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Giving Something Back

tony abel

House builders are sometimes accused of not contributing to the communities where they operate (beyond the provision of much-needed new homes, of course).  This has never really been true, and certainly not since the introduction of the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) in 2010, which compels builders to make a substantial financial payment for each new home we build, writes Tony Abel.

Local communities might be forgiven for not realising this – because often the bulk of this money does not find its way directly back to the town, village or parish where the new homes are being built.

Take for example our site in Hingham, where we are building 88 new family homes – a move which was welcomed by the Town Council’s chairman, incidentally.  The CIL to cover this site comes to more than £400,000, a substantial sum.

South Norfolk Council, to whom we pay the Levy, returns 25 per cent of the money raised to the relevant local town or parish council, so this amount at least will be spent in the village.  The remaining chunk of cash – just over £300,000 in this case – can be spent however and wherever the district council deems appropriate.

That could be supporting infrastructure within the community where the new homes are being built.  Or it could just as easily be directed to other projects the other side of the district.

This isn’t me having a pop at South Norfolk, or any other local authority.  We all know how tough the financial climate is for local authorities, which have a myriad of things that they have to deliver.  No-one can really blame district accountants for using the windfall that the CIL delivers to plug desperate funding gaps elsewhere.  I’m just not quite sure this was what was intended when the CIL was introduced. 

It is true that no one parish stands as an island, and there is a certain interdependence across a wider geographical level for infrastructure.  But you can’t blame local people who see new homes going up in their communities from asking why they are not getting a bigger slice of the cake.

This is the system we operate under, and the only solution is for house builders to engage directly with their local communities, offering more support than the (pretty large) sums they are required to pay under the CIL.

So in Hingam, for example, we are helping the local school bring forward plans for expansion; we are donating sports and play equipment to the village’s sports centre; we are sponsoring various communities clubs, activities and events; and we have even created a special beer to be sold in the pub and sports centre, and for each pint sold we make a donation to a special local community fund, administered by the town council.

None of this is cheap, especially given the significant amount we paid via the CIL.  Perhaps it’s because we are a local company which lives and works in the communities where we build that we choose to provide support beyond the legal requirements.  But it’s simply wrong to say that house builders don’t contribute to those communities where we build new homes.